Bad Behaviour

There’s an old saying;

People get the government they deserve.

Let’s table that for a moment.

A less troubling but equally important question to ask ourselves during the 2018 holiday season is:

Do we get the movies we deserve?

I mention this because essentially the saying and the question broach the same issue. They ask us to consider whether the situations we now find ourselves in are inextricably linked to and reflective of:

 Who we really are.

Yeah, I’m not ready to look either.

The stock market has just cratered to its lowest December since the Great Depression (Note: The one in 1929).

Our Electoral College POTUS has just announced the US is leaving Syria (against the advice of all our top military brass) to be picked apart by a JUBILANT Russia and China. #YoureWelcomeVlad.

And our government has been arbitrarily shut down this holiday weekend by said EC POTUS, who tweeted the Democrats now own the shutdown! after last week publicly stating  he would be proud to own the shutdown if he didn’t get the money to build his Border Wall Slats Whatever.

I’m with you Charlie Brown

Oh my, it’s confusing.

But not as confusing as to why so many of us will be spending our holidays watching nasty big screen dramedies about such inspiring figures as Dick Cheney (Vice) and England’s Queen Anne (The Favourite).

And yes, this IS much easier to talk about.  And write about.

An Oscar for Rachel Weisz’s eyepatch please #earlypredictions

The latter was a 17th century monarch mired in self-loathing, as well as a toxic lesbian triangle entirely of her own making – and manipulation.

The former was  (in case memory fails) an oil chief who grunted his way into power and self-created a war in Iraq based on “specious” facts.   A man who survives to this day after numerous heart attacks, a pacemaker, and finally someone else’s heart entirely  – all the while reveling in the ominous nickname the majority of the country have for him – Darth Vader.

Pretty much

Well, Merry Christmas to all of you, too!

And — HAPPY NEW YEAR!!

VICE and THE FAVOURITE are certainly not the only movies to see this week but they are among the newest, most touted and certainly most noteworthy.  They’re considered to be prestige pictures and must-see films.

They are also both rotten to their cores – celebrating a kind of ruthless, sociopathic lust to get power and remain in power during which time their “heroes” all wittily revel in the massive carnage they create around them as they crush anyone who dares to question their power.

It’s good to clarify

These films don’t so much take a look at the individuals at their center but serve up their extreme behaviors as a brooding, bloody kind of entertainment spectacle for the masses.  They are in so many ways both Grand Guignol yukfests and serious historical biopics,  each masquerading as the other when it’s most convenient.

When important dramatic questions beg to be answered, better to evaporate into fringe conduct peppered with either hysterical shrieks or guttural grunts.  On the other hand, when an important issue is reduced to egocentric flippancy, what better way is there than to evoke the trappings of the Crown or the White House, amid the deaths of their respective soldiers, in order to drag us back into the urgency of the situation at hand.

Ugh, along with bonus 80s drag #yuck

Just as it might be too soon to laugh at Dick Cheney and his antics in and around Iraq and the Capitol Building it feels faux cheeky to watch three  17th century ruling class lesbians mire around in the mud and curse like sailors for our own amusement.

Yeah, yeah – they said naughty words back then but never to such syncopated snappy effect.  And sure, sure, it was a scream and a half when Cheney shot that guy in the face but what is the point of watching him and his wife get hot for each other in bed while reciting Shakespeare??  God, I’d like to unsee that.

Agh Ew No!

Not to get all Hollywood movie executive – but can’t we at least have SOMEONE to root for or feel sorry for or just plain want to be with for two plus hours?  Even Bale’s Patrick Bateman was more sympathetic than Cheney.  Certainly, he was a lot easier to look at.

Yes, it’s an amazing parlor trick to see a handsome guy like Christian Bale transformed into a bald, bloated bellicose VICE slithering his way to the top with no discernible guilt or crisis of conscience for his misdeeds even as a plethora of facts confront him to the contrary.  It sort of reminds you of….well, turn on the news.

IS IT OVER YET?!

At the same time, watching three ladies so cleverly bitch at each other is a unique screen treat these days, if not quite politically correct.  Though one supposes if you are going to have three  (count ‘em!) lesbian characters engage power in a major motion picture where men are relegated to nothing but sex objects, impotent fools or embattled warriors as mere pawns, you should be given credit for a certain progressiveness – a kind of reversal of gender destinies.

Still, one can’t help but feel like it’s all a crock and we’ve simply devolved into a sadly reflective state.  A period in our culture where we need to minimize real life bad behavior by peppering it with enough humor and absurdity to make it go down easier.  A kind of whistling at the gallows.

What more timely message can the movies give us through which to close 2018?

Jill Scott – “Hate On Me”

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We’ve Got Mail

The holiday season has begun because Thanksgiving has happened.  Not only that, Black Friday pulled in a record $6.2 billion in online sales, up 23.6% from last year.

Anyone who went into a brick and mortar store…good for you!

But also know that sales for this year’s Cyber Monday (Note: That’s tomorrow) are projected to be $7.8 billion, an increase of 18% over 2017.  So you’re fighting a losing battle.

Of course none of this much matters in Hollywood when the presents that come in the mail you get most excited about are not the ones you bought online at a special discount but the ones you receive for free.  No, we’re not talking about love, thoughtfulness or anything to do with Gift of the Magi.

This is all about…..THE SCREENERS.

YASSSSSSSSS!!!

Yes, we’re THAT shallow out here.  The shallowest.  But if it bothered you all that much you wouldn’t ask to borrow them, would you??  Nor would so many of those in the entertainment biz who lived outside of Hollywood make sure that their agents, managers, publicists, unions and post offices have an address to forward these precious little gems to in advance of the holidays.

Who you callin’ Shallow? #OscarforBestSong #callingitnow

It’s amazing how a group of people who can mostly afford to go to see every movie on the planet and subscribe to all the streaming services playing a healthy number of all of the film and TV offerings available become absolutely apoplectic (Note:  with joy) when one of those unmarked boxes or padded envelopes show up at the door.

How do I know?  Because My Name is The Chair and I AM ONE OF THEM. I am a SCREENER QUEEN.

LONG MAY SHE REIGN!!

But why not get excited?  They often arrive in pretty packaging with thick stock pictures inside.  They might also have slick promotional posters, retro faux ads you could hang on the wall in a proper frame, and inside informational data you could only get if you actually read a newspaper or magazine article all the way through.  Plus, it’s all contained in a chic canister that evokes the theme of the show or the period it is set in.

This year’s second season of Amazon’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel arrived in its own cylindrical hatbox wrapped in a pretty pink ribbon the day before Thanksgiving.  Well, the first four episodes, anyway.  My sister and I were KVELLING!  (Note:  Translation – bursting with pride).

Hello, Gorgeous!

It was like the holiday gods granted us the entertainment wish we had no idea we were wishing for.  I mean, what else would a small family of Jews like us do AFTER stuffing their faces with a meal that only someone with Martha Stewart’s well, let’s politely say panache, could pull off without a hitch?  Or WANT to.  Because truly, Mrs. Maisel is THE most Jewish thing (Note: In a good way) I have ever seen on TV or in the movies (Note: Fiddler on the Roof and Funny Girl accepted, of course).  It IS every ethnic person’s answer to Thanksgiving.

Which brings us back twofold to the issue of screeners.  Not only do they give you something to do when you’re all out of ideas or too tired to think of them, they also give you something to do ahead of time that you were looking forward to but had resigned yourself to wait for.  Plus, they allow you to catch up with something you had vowed you would see weeks before but had not been able to rouse yourself out of the house to ever attend.

Oh yeah, I’m hip #sotrendy

I don’t know about you but the United States is so volatile these days I find that I feel much safer at home torturing myself with cable news 24/7 rather than venturing to a darkened theatre for a few hours, thus allowing the apocalypse to sneak in during a moment when I wasn’t worrying and keeping us all safe.

Know that for this SCREENER QUEEN it is not about showing off by being FIRST but using these advance copies of lusciousness to give me so many much needed jolts of distracting excitements away from our impending and inevitable collective demises.

Savoring the moment

Which is a shame because here’s what is inevitably noticeable about the crop of deliverables received thus far.  If movies are any indication we are finally, if ever so slightly, beginning to diversify representation.

Movie stories about people and cultures we’ve never spent too much time thinking about en masse have finally begun to creep through and onto the COMP gravy train.

The last time a studio spent this much money to send out a rom-com about an Asian couple attending a wedding in Singapore was…NEVER.  But of course there has never been a crossover film like Crazy Rich Asians to market directly to Hollywood guild members.  If our world were to survive, it would be so encouraging for that community to finally be perceived as silly, sexy and superficially wealthy as so many of the rest of us.

Plus 2018’s Breakout Star #Awkwafina

The Hate U Give also gives one hope for the bright future we’ll never see.  When Hollywood can actually make an intelligent film about a smart and attractive 16-year-old Black female teenager standing up unapologetically to the white power structure AND be proud enough to send it out for FREE to those same powers-that-be, well…we truly have arrived…somewhere.

I’m not sure where exactly but I do know I found myself thrilled to watch a movie where I could so strongly identify with the feelings of a heroine of a different sex and color who was decades younger than myself.  It was so much more pleasurable than  feeling nothing but anger during any one of thousands of superhero films where the lead bore no relation to any thought or feeling I have ever had, or had even observed in any other living or breathing thing I had ever known.

OK maybe Amandla Stenberg can give Awkwafina a run for her money #breakoutstars

Yes, you too can be Black, Jewish or Asian AND actually feel represented by the first initial early batch of 2018 end-of-the year Hollywood screeners.  That might not seem like much but it’s something to hold on to in a time when we’re all grasping at straws.

No wonder there’s excitement in the air every time the mail arrives these days.

Andy Williams – “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year”

The Oscar Race

Screen Shot 2015-01-18 at 1.28.56 PM

There is not much to count on in life anymore but one of the constants is that upon the announcement of the Academy Award nominations there will be a significant group of people outraged by the choices made by the group’s almost 6,000 voting members. This is not to denigrate the passionate emotions those who are outraged display. I myself have still not gotten over the fact that Mia Farrow was not nominated for her star turn in Rosemary’s Baby and that movie was released before I reached adolescence (Note: Yes, it’s true, I had opinions even then). Not to mention, we’re not taking into account the biggest Oscar slight of all – Judy Garland losing the best actress race to Grace Kelly in 1955. I mean, all things being equal could you honestly say that you’d rather watch The Country Girl on a loop until the end of time rather than A Star Is Born??? Please.

Lest we forget 1951's blasphemy

Lest we forget 1951’s blasphemy

So you see where I’m going with this.

This year the principal outrage is about the movie Selma receiving only two Academy Award nominations – one for best picture and the other for best song. So powerful were the passions stirred that the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite began trending almost instantly. Among my favorites was:

#OscarsSoWhite that the statue counts as a person of color.

Oh snap!

Oh snap!

Bravo! (or Brava!) to whoever thought of that one.

As a lifelong Oscar watcher, former entertainment reporter, person who has been going to Academy screenings for 30 years, and screenwriter who admittedly would LOVE to at some point get nominated for one of those things as I’m simultaneously made fun of by 50 million people from their beds and/or living rooms, let me just say this:

None of this is fair. And it is NOT a conspiracy of exclusion. The day that the creative types and non-creative types who make up the membership of the Academy could truly agree on what is a good movie is the day when Oscar watching will cease to be an attraction. Or even vaguely interesting. Which, in laymen’s terms means — IT WILL NEVER HAPPEN.

Here’s the deal. Minorities ARE underrepresented in movies. But if you take the entire list of films in distribution in each year, so are — intelligence, depth, humanity, and individuality.

And just think.. 3 years ago this was the Black and White debate of the Oscars

And just think.. 3 years ago this was the Black and White debate of the Oscars

There are a MINORITY number of films in release these days with many of the above qualities and most of those are the ones being considered for Oscar statuettes. That’s a small number compared to the amount of movies each year that can qualify for consideration by the Academy but a large number when taken as a group unto themselves. So given that most categories are limited to five nominees means that when it comes down to it there is A LOT of competition for those top slots.

What happens then is that it becomes a matter of taste. Well, all you have to do is go into the recently revamped bland, near empty, high-tech nightmare that accounts for the new lobby of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences and you can see that its ingenuity in that area is – to be kind – sorely lacking. While it does deserve credit for keeping the traditional cushy red velvet seats in the Samuel Goldwyn Theatre – still the best sound and best place in town overall to see a movie – the design of the new lobby itself tells you all you need to know about the organization’s taste level at this moment – or really, any moment. And that is – well, go down the list of nominations and judge for yourself. The one thing that is for certain is that you can find quite a bit not to like.

The only Oscar lobby we care about this year

The only Oscar lobby we care about this year

It’s difficult to defend the Academy’s record for the employment and recognition of non-white, non-male and non-heterosexual people on the whole. On the same token, it’s equally difficult to find much consistency in many of their choices. For instance, if the 21st century of Academy voters were truly white-centric why did they award Oscars to 12 Years A Slave last year for best picture, screenplay and supporting actress, among the film’s nine nominations? If they are so white, traditional and such an insular club, how is it that they failed to even NOMINATE the unofficial KING of Hollywood directors, Steven Spielberg, for best director on The Color Purple in 1986 yet saw fit to vote the movie a whopping 11 nominations back then?

Apparently having brown eyes also puts you in the minority. #creepy

Apparently having brown eyes also puts you in the minority. #creepy

Don’t try to answer because none of it makes any sense and it’s about as fair as who wins the lottery or is chosen to participate in The Hunger Games. Though it is a lot more fun to watch than either. Especially when the right people lose and the wrong people win. Admittedly those are sad facts but undoubtedly true ones.

I took myself to see Selma a few days ago before I weighed in on any of this. I liked the film, which gained power as it went on – not unlike the march for voting rights did in Selma. Its director Ava DuVernay did a fine job and David Oyelowo so powerfully evoked the spirit of the late Dr. Martin Luther King in such a uniquely human fashion that there were occasional moments that felt like discarded behind-the-scenes documentary footage rather than beats of a large scale, mainstream Hollywood-type movie.

And to think he's British!

And to think he’s British!

Yes, it would have been just to finally have an African American woman nominated for best director. In fact, it’s beyond ridiculous that it hasn’t yet happened. But when going over the list of nominees, who clearly doesn’t belong and should absolutely be eliminated?

Alejandro G. Inarritu, Birdman

Richard Linklater, Boyhood

Not going to happen. Those two are the frontrunners of arguably the most unusual and complicated films made this year. So that leaves three more slots.

Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel

Morten D. Tydlum, The Imitation Game

Bennett Miller, Foxcatcher

One thing's for sure: they all need a haircut.

One thing’s for sure: they all need a haircut.

Well, I for one always feel left in the lurch with Wes Anderson movies (Note: Students don’t hate me and yes, it’s probably a bit generational). Yet given the complicated visual execution here and the fact that the Academy has a new and growing group of younger voters who have finally brought the average age down to somewhere around 60, you can see why it’s hard to argue a case against this. It’s a film that feels hip and quirky and there almost always seems to be one slot for that.

The Imitation Game is, like Selma, somewhat of a film about injustice but unlike the march for civil rights it centers on the life of a little known previously unsung GAY man who pioneered the use of computers which significantly contributed to the Allies winning WWII (Note: Never underestimate WWII stories in Academy circles).

OK... maybe not all of the time.  #sorryangie

OK… maybe not all of the time. #sorryangie

It’s also strangely about humanity and civil rights but also manages to make the puzzles surrounding the computers that baffle most Academy voters in daily life seem decipherable. All told that’s a triple relevance factor overall and it’s hard to compete with that.

That leaves Bennett Miller’s nomination for Foxcatcher, a rather unsavory, artsily-disturbing look at a murder. It has a lot of sparse, directorial flourishes and features a beloved comic actor who has not been recognized previously by the Academy in a stomach churning, disturbing star turn. One can’t imagine it’s the White choice or even the commercial choice. The oddness of it feels like the choice of the director’s branch – a group composed primarily of men who probably related to its themes of maleness.

And yet THIS is the Academy president

And yet THIS is the Academy president

The latter could alone validate the reasons of the outraged and the fact that certainly more female-driven stories need to be made, hopefully by more female directors. Meanwhile, the one female to actually win best director, Kathryn Bigelow, did so seven years ago for The Hurt Locker – a war film with maleness written all over it, despite its female director. 12 Years A Slave had an even more violent underpinning and also got recognized in spite of, or perhaps because of, its quite violent subject matter. Hmmm.

This all does not address the best director omission this year of perennial Oscar alpha male favorite Clint Eastwood for American Sniper, The Theory of Everything’s James Marsh’s unique take on Stephen Hawking, or why Whiplash could get a best picture, screenplay and supporting actor nod while Damien Chazelle was completely left out of the aforementioned category. Did that movie direct itself?

Ageism?

Ageism?

Best actor is an even more impossible competition. Do you by pass by Michael Keaton for Birdman, Eddie Redmayne in Theory of Everything, or Benedict Cumberbatch in Imitation Game? Those three were locks. That leaves two major movie star, star turns. Both Bradley Cooper and Steve Carell left behind all traces of their charismatic and jovial selves in American Sniper and Foxcatcher and if nothing else the acting branch are suckers for that. I would wager at least a box of Red Vines and a small Diet Coke that Mr. Oyelowo came in sixth for a performance that was so good it managed to blend into the movie rather than stand above it. That is a credit to him as an actor, regardless of race. It is just not always the best strategy to net an Oscar nomination in a super competitive year. One only needs to look at the Oscar nominated best actor performance of Chiwetel Ejiofor in 12 Years A Slave last year to see the difference. Which begs the question of why Jake Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler was overlooked this year for totally transforming into…well, see it. My guess is he was #7 even though he clearly delivered one of the three best acting jobs of any sex or race in 2014.

Someone get this man a hot meal!

Someone get this man a hot meal!

Of course, this and all other Oscar analyses and prognostications are sheer guesswork.   Yes, we all need a lot more work on inclusion and equal opportunity. But like most of us, Oscar is primarily an equal opportunity offender. Which is to say there is no coherent reason for why they are doing the offending in the first place.  This makes it quite different from the events in Selma and near impossible to come up with a reasonable explanation as to why that film received a paucity of nominations.   Or why some of the others you and I didn’t care for received a plethora of them.

Which doesn’t mean I won’t be watching, waiting and ready to comment when they give out those little suckers for the 87th time next month – along with most of the rest of you.